Study Guide

Interpreter of Maladies "Sexy"

By Jhumpa Lahiri

"Sexy"

Sexy

  • Imagine the gossipiest person you know telling you a story. That's what happens in the beginning to Miranda—our "heroine," if you could call her that. She's listening to her co-worker Laxmi talk about her cousin's husband, who's a total adulterous creep, "a wife's worst nightmare."
  • Miranda's kind of listening, kind of not, because she's trying to work (she's one of those people who asks for donations and pledges for the radio station).
  • Plus, she's thinking about Dev, who's Bengali (just like the son of the cousin whose husband's a cheater. Wow, that was a mouthful.).
  • Who's Dev? A handsome, mustached guy she met just a week ago at a department store makeup counter.
  • Dev was shopping for cellulite creams and other stuff because his thighs are dimpling. No, just kidding (well, who knows, maybe they are). He's shopping for his—irony/coincidence alert!—wife. Yep, even as Miranda is listening to Laxmi talk about a cheater, she's currently in a thing with a married man herself.
  • Dev's wife is conveniently flying to India for a little while, which makes it easy for Dev to start something with Miranda.
  • They get into a routine really quickly (not to mention everything else that goes along with an affair). Dev leaves in the afternoon to go back to his suburban home because he can't spend the night (his wife calls him daily at 6 a.m. Eastern time).
  • But it's not just his wife who's a clock-watcher and checker-upper; Dev is too—only with the "wrong" woman. Dev calls and texts Miranda more or less at the same times everyday. Some people might consider that obsessive, semi-stalkerish behavior but Miranda doesn't seem to mind.
  • In fact, Miranda thinks he understands her. You know, because he "knows what it's like to be lonely" (Sexy 34). He compliments her on her independence (she's only 22 but she moved out to Boston from Michigan on her own). And her legs. He loves her legs because they're really long.
  • Plus, he's really romantic. Like old school, brings flowers, opens doors for women romantic. Miranda's never experienced all of that before so you can see why she might be a little head over heels about this guy.
  • Even though Miranda isn't exactly the intellectual type (he has to show her a map of his country to get her to understand his origins, and even then…), she's no dummy. She doesn't tell anyone about the affair, especially not Laxmi, even though she kind of wants to confide in her since Laxmi's Indian, too.
  • Other great things about Dev and Miranda: they never argue; they go to all these cultured places like museums.
  • At one point they go to the Mapparium, where not only does Dev teach Miranda even more about geography and the world, he speaks the very significant line to Miranda, "You're sexy," after Miranda whispers "Hi." (Why are they even saying this stuff to each other? They're testing the acoustics out because supposedly you can hear a whisper there when standing 30 feet apart. You can go test this out and tell us if it's true.)
  • Cue small interlude: we're back at the office again and Laxmi's going on about her cousin's husband (as usual), who apparently is a repeat offender and makes Laxmi feel paranoid about her own husband.
  • Miranda's just kind of listening and thinking about her own stuff, like the fact that Dev's wife will be returning the next day.
  • Then she asks Laxmi what the Taj Mahal is like, to which Laxmi responds: "An everlasting monument to love."
  • While Dev picks up his wife from the airport, Miranda's caught up in the romance of the whole affair and decides to go the whole nine yards. She finds clothing that fits her "mistress" role—stockings, lingerie, heels, etc.
  • Too bad Dev hardly notices the next time they meet up. He's in gym clothes (his excuse to his wife: he's running along the Charles River). So you can probably guess where all of Miranda's new mistress-wear ends up—at the back of the closet and in dresser drawers.
  • But Miranda's the easygoing type; she still likes Dev. She just doesn't bother dressing up for him.
  • During these meetings, Dev tells Miranda stories about his childhood in India, which sounds pretty exotic to Miranda.
  • Dev doesn't only talk about himself though; he asks Miranda all about her previous love (i.e. sex) life.
  • After talking, Dev takes 12-minute naps. Exactly 12 minutes.
  • Miranda doesn't though. She watches him, puts her hand in his, revels in his perfection. You get the point.
  • After his 12-minute nap, Dev wakes up and says that the nap is the "best twelve minutes of the week." Then he cleans up and goes home. What a gentleman.
  • Cue: flashback. Miranda, our daydreaming heroine, thinks back to her childhood, to the one Indian family that lived in her suburban neighborhood—the Dixits. She recalls that no one in the neighborhood really welcomed or accepted the Dixits, including herself. In fact, she remembers being invited to one of the Dixit children's birthday party and not eating the birthday cake because a statuette of the goddess Kali freaks her out as does the general strangeness of the whole experience.
  • Of course, now that she's an adult and is in an affair with an Indian man, she's all into learning about Indian culture, trying Indian food, even writing part of her name—"Mira"—in Sanskrit.
  • Back to the present. The affair has settled back into a routine. Miranda goes to work, eats lunch at an Indian restaurant with Laxmi, and sees Dev on Sundays. Saturdays are the worst for her because Sunday is just sooo far away.
  • One Sunday, she asks Dev what his wife looks like. Bad idea. Apparently, the wife looks like an Indian movie star by the name of Madhuri Dixit.
  • By the way, Dixit—sound familiar? It does to Miranda, who's frantic for a moment thinking it's one of the Dixit kids until she recalls that the Dixit girl's name began with a "P." (We're guessing there's some significance to this name, but we'll let you figure that out.)
  • Anyway, one night, Miranda decides to go to an Indian grocery/video store and ruin her self-esteem by searching for videos with Madhuri Dixit in them (or "Mottery" Dixit, as Miranda hears it). She doesn't get that far though because she can pretty much tell by all the pictures of the Bollywood actresses that Madhuri Dixit is probably really beautiful. Which of course means that Dev's wife is probably also really beautiful.
  • She thinks of getting some Indian snacks for Laxmi, but then decides against it because how would she explain her presence at an Indian store? The grocer tells her that the snacks she's eyeing are "too spicy" for her anyway.
  • Time flies by and it's February. Laxmi's still talking about and to her cousin, whose husband now wants a divorce.
  • Laxmi convinces her cousin to stop over in Boston on her way to recuperate in California so that Laxmi can take care of her and console her like only women can. In fact, she plans a spa day.
  • She's forgotten about her cousin's son. What to do with him?
  • This is where Miranda comes in. Laxmi ropes Miranda into babysitting the son on Saturday, which Miranda does. (Note: say no to babysitting kids you don't know.)
  • Rohin, the 7-year-old boy, is basically like a little man, only with a lot more energy. He's into memorizing capitals of countries, which he's a whiz at. He also treats Miranda's house like his own (goes into the fridge without asking; moves her stuff without asking).
  • He even asks to drink coffee, which Miranda at first refuses. But he's pretty demanding and so Miranda caves and gives him a cup. (Note again: bad idea.)
  • The rest of the day goes like this: Rohin won't leave Miranda alone. He gets her to quiz him on capitals; he follows her wherever she goes (even to the bathroom, although not inside); he noses through her medicine cabinet.
  • Then, he asks (okay, tells) her to draw for him the room they're in. Why? Because he wants to memorize their day together since he knows they'll never see each other again. This is a little depressing, at least to Miranda.
  • While Miranda is drawing Rohin, Rohin gets up from the table and announces that he's bored. He then gets up and goes into her bedroom, her bureau, her closet.
  • Okay now here's where things get a little weird (if they aren't weird already).
  • Rohin finds a sexy, silver cocktail dress Miranda bought on her let's-look-like-a-mistress shopping spree and demands, begs, pleads that Miranda put it on.
  • Miranda agrees, but she tells Rohin that he needs to leave the room while she changes (hey, she's got some boundaries).
  • Rohin, however, informs Miranda that his mother always undresses in front of him. He says she even slept with him in his bed one night because she said it felt better now that his father was gone.
  • Miranda firmly takes Rohin out of the room so that she can change into the dress.
  • When she's done, Rohin tells her that she looks sexy. In fact, he uses the same words as Dev did that day at the Mapparium: "You're sexy." Miranda can't help but think of Dev when Rohin speaks like that.
  • Miranda's interested though in why Rohin uses that word "sexy" and asks him to define it, which makes the boy all shy (amazingly).
  • But eventually he tells Miranda that "sexy" means "loving someone you don't know." This, by the way, isn't a bad time to pause and ponder that definition because, you know, out of the mouth of babes…
  • Anyway, Miranda's kind of stunned by that sentence the same way she was kind of stunned when she realized that Dev's wife must be beautiful.
  • Rohin, on the other hand, is very matter-of-fact about it just like he is about his father's affair. And just to emphasize that point, Rohin crawls into Miranda's bed, under her covers, and falls asleep (like Dev, only for longer).
  • While Rohin's sleeping, Miranda changes out of her cocktail dress and into her jeans; then she imagines how Rohin must have come by that definition for "sexy." Like maybe he overheard his mother yelling at his father about his "sexy" girlfriend and how could he possibly love a woman he doesn't know.
  • All of this makes Miranda cry too. She thinks about that day at the Mapparium when she could hear Dev speak to her perfectly clearly from 30 feet away and how close he seemed. She feels a loss, too.
  • While Miranda's crying, Rohin just continues sleeping. Miranda figures it's because Rohin's used to hearing a woman cry.
  • So this whole little episode with Rohin is a turning point. Miranda sees the effect Rohin's father's adultery has had on the kid.
  • The next time Dev calls on a Sunday, Miranda lies and tells him that he shouldn't come over because she has a cold. The Sunday after that, it snows, so he can't come over. Then, the Sunday after that, she decides to go out with Laxmi to the movies and Dev doesn't object. Then, the Sunday after that, Miranda decides to take a walk, buys a cup of coffee, and gaze at a church. So in other words, Miranda gets rid of her "Mr. Big" and finds out she's okay being single.

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